Fringe reviews: ‘Exile 2588’ and ‘The Sincerity Project’

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The cast of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's 'Exile 2588' in the Philly Fringe Festival. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Kontz)

The cast of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's 'Exile 2588' in the Philly Fringe Festival. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Kontz)

Exile 2588

For its originality alone, Almanac Dance Circus Theatre’s “Exile 2588” excels. The theater company takes an obscure part of a Greek myth about a goddess named Io, recreates much of the myth’s context and tells its story with an engrossing mix of acrobatics and live music. The result: a 70-minute Fringe show with fresh ideas, followed through. 

As movement theater, “Exile 2588” is daring, too – its cast of five performers leap about or communicate to the audience in movements so complex, you have to see them to get the real effect. But I’ll try. In once scene, they turn themselves into a single body that moves across the stage floor like a caterpillar escaping a predator. In two others, four of them form a human trampoline, linking arms as they toss their remaining colleague into the air repeatedly; each time, she flip-flops into a different position. One of them finds a new way to signal another that a certain procedure will begin – he repeats it faster and faster, each time including a move that raises his body off the stage floor as if by magnetic levitation.

None of this is simple physically, and all of it would be enough for a good circus act, but “Exile 2588” is a solid piece of theater and these performers act through it all, frequently delivering dialogue as they move. They’re accompanied by an acoustic duo called Chickabiddy – the versatile theater artists Emily Schuman and Aaron Cromie – who sit off to the side, sometimes moving the story along with their own dialogue but mostly providing the original vocals and enchanting folk-genre music that reflects the plot.

Put it all together with a fantastical story about a society that operates after the earth has been wrecked by environmental disasters that humans created, and you’ve got a form of theatrical mysticism. Groupings of humans people this society – they can no longer procreate and will live forever. One of them, Io (pronounce it EYE-oh), is an individualist who must eventually be dealt with. The rules are harsh. She may never see home gain.

The director, Nick Jonczak, created the story and the show along with the cast and with Chickabiddy, and Pig Iron Theatre Company co-founder Dan Rothenberg provided what the production calls an “outside eye.” Jonczak, as well as two perfomers in the show – Ben Grinberg and Nick Gillette – are grads of Pig Iron’s school and their performing colleagues (Lauren Johns, Mark Wong and Nicole Burgio) have extensive physical-performance resumés. Burgio, who plays Io, has been an aerialist in Canada, Latvia and Portugal. Her bio in the program notes that after this show, she’ll go to Spain to play Marilyn Monroe – on a trapeze.

“If I were infinite,” Chickabiddy sings, “I’d never be alone. I’d have all the time to fall in and out of love.” Yet the lie in that lyric is obvious from “Exile 2588,” which examines immortality in a way I’ve never seen before. Much of the programming in the Fringe Festival is about connecting with something: a person, a community, an idea, yourself. “Exile 2588” is about a society that inhibits connecting. And in the end, it’s about the way connection, plus suffering and joy, are inevitable pieces of being mortal.

Exile 2588,” produced by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, runs through Sept. 23 at the Painted Bride, 230 Vine St.

The Sincerity Project (2016)

If you are really Fringe – I mean really, not just oh, well, sort of Fringe – then you are made for “The Sincerity Project (2016)” and it’s made for you. The reason there’s a year in its official title is because this installment is the second of a baker’s dozen, to be performed by the same seven actors over a period of 24 years. They’re part of a producing group of theater and dance creators called Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, which develops new forms of performance.

This certainly is. In the first installment, also curated by FringeArts, “The Sincerity Project,” was possibly the most insincere piece on a stage at the time, and that served a purpose for its creator-cast: Any conflict in the piece grew from your own questions about how sincere it may have been. You could never be sure what was true and what wasn’t about these seven folks who said they were revealing themselves.

That time around, a large part of their revelations dealt with stories about losing their virginity. This time, it’s primarily about their bodies, particularly their tattoos and how they got them or why. But several don’t have tattoos, so it becomes about exercise or physical routines or – whatever. Mostly, though, it’s about ripping off their clothes – for most of them, dressing and ripping them off again and again – and dealing with the effects of ice and ice-cold water, and running wantonly and naked through the venerable Plays & Players Theatre, which has housed lots of wildness but probably not on this level.

It is all very pleasantly absurd, something more than a frolic and less than a melee. Where you place it on that spectrum depends on your mind – once (and if) you get used to the show’s karma, you’re on your own in assessing whether it’s filling and fulfilling. For me, I smiled the whole way out of the theater after it was breathlessly finished — “The Sincerity Project (2016)” is an act of pure chutzpah on the part of its cast members. And by association, on the part of the audience.

The Sincerity Project (2016),” produced by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, runs through Sept. 18 at Plays & Players Theatre, Delancey Place between 17th and 18th Streets.

Click through for information about the Philly Fringe Festival, which runs through Sept. 24, although some shows run longer. 

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